Two US Generals Brief Media in Baghdad – April 11, 2004
Just a few hours after US Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt fielded a barrage of questions from Baghdad correspondents at noon Monday, April 11, he was outranked in a follow-up appearance. OC Central Command US General John Abizaid and commander of ground troops in Iraq Lt.-General Ricardo Sanchez took to the microphones with some information and news of a change. They disclosed that a total of nine Americans were missing in Iraq: 2 soldiers and 7 civilians employed by the US engineering company Kellogg, Brown and Root, a division of Halliburton. Thomas Hamill belongs to the same company. He was taken hostage and displayed on Arab television with a threat by an Iraqi group that he would be killed and burnt if US troops did not pull out of Fallujah.
Sanchez said US offensive operations had been suspended in that Sunni hotspot to allow mediation efforts to go forward.
The two generals were asked about coalition intentions regarding the radical Shiite Moqtada Sadr who launched an uprising on April 4. Sanchez replied: either capture or kill him.
Much of the briefing was devoted to the revelations published by debkafile on April 10 on the ways in which Iraqi forces had buckled under the pressures of the Shiite uprising and Sunni insurgency in the past ten days.
In an earlier interview on Sunday, Sanchez added a disclosure of his own: an Iraq battalion had this week refused to go into Fallujah to support the US Marines’ operation against the insurgents who had staged the brutal murder of four American contractors. This incident, he said, had revealed “significant challenges” within US-trained Iraqi security forces.
In the two-general briefing, both acknowledged these challenges.
The most important change they announced for improving the performance of the new Iraq army and police pertained to the leadership problem. Henceforth, they announced, senior commanders of Saddam Hussein’s armed forces would be recalled in significant numbers and given key tasks – a complete reversal of the policy enacted by US administrator Paul Bremer, who for the past year barred the officers and NCOs who were Baath members or loyal to the Saddam regime from positions in the post-Saddam forces.
The two generals admitted frankly that the issue of leadership as well as recruitment and training methods required reassessment. They also promised better quarters and facilities for Iraqi troops and police officers as well as mentorship after training – in short, a new infrastructure to restore the credibility of the New Iraqi Army and the various security arms.
They affirmed that none of these changes would have an impact on the transfer of sovereignty. We always knew that the Iraqi forces would not be ready by that deadline to provide either internal or external security unsupported, said Abizaid.
He announced a request had been put in for an extra two brigades with combat and rapid reaction capabilities.
Asked for details on his previous charge against Iran of “meddling” in Iraqi unrest, Sanchez reported indications from intelligence of “unhelpful actions” by Iran and also Syria. He said in the last 35 to 40 days, border police capacity had been increased on the Syrian, Iranian and southeastern frontiers of Iraq.
Abizaid stressed that while specific problems like Fallujah and Najef – where he confirmed that Sadr’s militia is in control – could have military solutions, Iraq as a whole required a political solution or a combination of the two. This is the line the OC Central Command and overall commander of Iraq has kept to scrupulously, according to debkafile‘s military sources: US armed forces will take care of the military and security problems arising in Iraq, but the political issues are the province of the Bush administration in Washington.